Helping Poor Kids in Tiruvannamalai Get Ready for the New School Year

June 25, 2012

Poverty is everywhere in India. Half of all Indian households (50%) live on less than $162 per month. The average household is 5.45 people, so $30 per month, $1.00 per day or less, per person. (2002 data and graph from Hammond India Profile.) The poorest 10% live on half that, 50 cents a day, or less. For these families the cost of school supplies is very high, so maybe the kids will do without.

As you can see from the graph below, about 70% of Indian households have a total income below $200 per month. For each family member this is $1.22 per day per person. With India’s population about 12 billion people, this is 840 million people living on less than $1.22 a day. My wife and my USA social security checks, which are small in the US, puts us in the top income group here in India.


Basic school supplies consist of things like notebooks to write in (vital where much education is by rote), covers for notebooks, pencils and pens to write with, rulers and compasses for math, and staplers and paper punches for the advanced levels of school. Children who do not have these basics will miss out on most of the education offered. Cost for these supplies is about $10. Besides the class materials, it is important to have new uniforms each year. To buy the cloth for uniforms and have it stitched costs about $20. This is not much for a family in the USA. For a poor family making $80 per month, $30 per child (with most families having two children) is an enormous expense. The choice may become “buy new things for school this month or eat?”

In Samuthiram Village, next to Tiruvannamalai, a local nonprofit organization, Quality of Life Trust, is doing something to help these children and families; they are buying school supplies and uniforms for selected local children, the poorest of the poor. In Indian villages, people often get upset if one person is given something, and the next person is not; the children selected by the Quality of Life Trust are poor enough that even their neighbors felt that help was needed for them. 

This post shows the purchase and distribution school supplies to poor children.

We started at a shop on Thiruvoodal Street (the street that goes to the Tiruvannamalai market).


In the entryway there are piles and piles of boxes and loose books, etc.



There is just a narrow walkway though them.


Many men are lined up at the counter. Most have lists of supplies that they need. This is the time of year that school starts here, and probably 80% of this shop’s business is done in June, the first month of school.


Behind the counter, shelves are full of many items. How would you know what they have? They usually do not let you go behind the counter.





They have stacks and stacks of books. Below is a maths book for the Ninth Standard. The schools provide the books. Everything else needs to be provided by the school child. Maybe the many private schools buy books here?


I think this is the shop owner. He handles the money.


Pens hang from the ceiling.


Now they start to fill our order. Dhakshinamoorthy, the head of the Quality of Life Trust, stands at the counter. He has the money. Next to him on the left is Ramesh, the main assistant at the Trust. He has the list of items needed. There is a mix of boys and girls, from the Eighth through Twelfth Standard.


One thing that most kids need is a maths box, with ruler, compass, protractor, pencil and eraser. Typical of South India, the brand name for these maths supplies is Nataraj, “Dancing Siva.” So in class they will use their Dancing Siva compass and ruler.


They also need pens and pencils. The pencil brand is ‘apsara’, the dancing goddesses seen carved on the frescos of Angkor Wat.


Upper Standard kids need staplers. The one boy in the Twelfth Standard needs a hole punch.


Some people buy notebooks by the bag full.


The clerk is stacking up items that are being bought by the trust. Many notebooks are needed. Each child needs eight for the year.


Now is time to pay, Dhakshinamoorthy’s job. More than rs 4000 for supplies for the ten children.


Here are the supplies bought today, stacked on a table.


Next is a stop at a fabric store, also on Thiruvoodal Street, across from the vegetable market.


Men from the Trust stand in the entrance to the shop. Typical of fabric and clothing shops in much of India, sarees and some readymade children’s clothes hang in the entryway, showing the wares available here.


This shop has two long halls, lined floor to ceiling with shelves filled with fabric and clothing. 



The men from the Trust sit and talk to a shopkeeper. There are two kinds of uniforms needed. Most of the kids go to the Government school, and one goes to another school. There is confusion about what is needed at the Government School, they learn from talking with the shopkeeper. The Government School uniforms are white and one other color. The government wants to change the color this year, but they do not know what the new color will be yet, even though the school year has started.


So they can just buy the material for one boy, at the other school.


The shopkeeper measure out fabric.


And cuts it.


This is the boy, in Twelfth Standard.


At the checkout stand. Again, I think it is the owner of the shop handling money. They are buying two pieces of cloth, one for the pants and one for a shirt. In this case they will give them to to boy’s mother, who will sew them.


The next day there is a special ceremony, where these items are given to the children, and their families.

In villages in Tamil Nadu (and, I think, in all of India), things go best when there are group ceremonies. So a group ceremony is planned to hand out the school supplies. The ceremony will be held in a small building rented by the Quality of Life Trust. Soon this building will become the Old Age Home run by Quality of Life Trust for impoverished village elders who have been abandoned by their families. For now it is a place we can use for today’s event.


First, things need to be set up. Sathya, the daughter of Dhakshinamoorthy, helps bring in the school supplies that were purchased.


Richard arranges them on the table.


Here are the items that will be given out today. It seems like a big pile for just 10 kids!


Ramesh is talking to the children who are helping about what needs to be given to each person.


Now they are setting up piles for each kid. These children just pitch in and do what is needed, no back talk.



Then the oldest boy, the one who is starting the Twelfth Standard, starts tying up the bundles.


The orange tubes are rolled up book covers for the notebooks.


This is one girl who will receive a bundle. I think she is the youngest here today.


Here is another girl, a little older.


Two more girls, the oldest girls here, I think in Eleventh Standard. They are wearing last year’s uniforms, blue and white.


One of the mothers.


Men, sitting and waiting. They are dressed with white shirts and dhotis. This is formal wear for village men. The grey-haired gent to the left is one of the elders being helped by the trust. When he was a child, he just attended school through the Fourth Standard. This means that he can read and write, but that is about all the education he received. In his generation, this was pretty typical.


This man had nothing to do with the event. He was just standing in front of a nearby house. Carol took this photo, and showed it to the man. He laughed and clapped his hands like a child when he saw it. The painting of the rising sun over the hills is political, for the DMK party, now out of power in Tamil Nadu but still popular in Tiruvannamalai.


This is Lakshmi, Dhakshinamoorthy’s wife. Through all of this her help has been vital.


Peeking out from behind a nearby building is Arunachala, silently watching over the proceedings.


Here are most of the kids, waiting for the event. Each has a piece of paper saying that they have been awarded these school supplies. They will give in this paper when they receive their materials.


Then the awards begin. Dhakshinamoorthy gives a bundle to one girl. Her mother is at her side. Her mother is pretty short. Childhood malnutrition was common in her generation, and small stature is often a result of inadequate diet as a child.


Ramesh presents a package to one of the boys, while his father looks on.


Richard give a package.


So does Carol. This is typical of Tamil events; they want to get everybody involved in some way.


A girl and her dad come out of the hall.


Another girl, dressed, I think, in her best dress.


Another girl and her father.


Here is the group, standing outside with their packages of supplies. Ramesh, Dhakshinamoorthy, and one more man from the Trust stand with them.


In a few days they will also get new uniforms. We are waiting for the school to decide what colors. Then we hope there is enough cloth available, there surely will be a run on that color cloth, once people know what is needed. We want to make sure these children have new uniforms as a matter of personal pride. It is bad enough to be poor, it is worse to be treated as poor by the other kids at school.

In the five years we have lived here, we have seen the Quality of Life Trust grow enough to be able to make these donations for the first time this year. It is so heartwarming for us to see these small actions taken by the village people to help each other.

This is made possible entirely by donations to the Trust. If this is something that you might be interested in, email me at Without donations from people who care and want to help, nothing is possible.


Helping Aged, Blind and Disabled Sadhus near Arunachala

June 4, 2012

Sadhus give their lives to God. Renouncing family, home, and possessions, they live only on what is given to them. When they are healthy, this life has many hardships; when they are old, infirm, and disabled, it is nearly impossible.

A few months ago we were shown a group of sadhus who were old and disabled. Many are blind. Some live in a government-built shelter originally intended as a resting place for those walking Pradakshina around Arunachala. Others stay in a house made of palm-leaf thatch behind the government building.  It is easy to miss these sadhus when walking or driving past this point, since they mostly are unable to come out and be seen.

When I found out about these sadhus, I told our friends at Quality of Life Trust, who are already helping aged homeless elders in a nearby village adjacent to Tiruvannamalai. When I told Dhakshinamoorthy, who runs the Trust, he immediately wanted to help, even through he has no funds for this. He investigated and found out that there are 20 sadhus housed in these two buildings. They have only sporadic food, and little if any medical help. He was also told, when he investigated, that if he is able to start providing food, that it is vital that this help keep going. They have had some attempts to help before that started then stopped, and this was very bad for the old sadhus.

Starting in May 2012, with an emergency donation, the Quality of Life Trust started daily feeding of these sadhus. This post shows these sadhus and their living situation.

Here is the government building, on Pradakshina Road, about 2 km from Bangalore Road.


It is next to a popular temple, visited by many who come here. It contains a famous lingam, called Edirner Annamalai.


Between the two buildings is an area that can be walked through, and another small building set back from the road.


Face to the left after walking past the government building and you see a thatched hut.

Standing in front are Dhakshinamoorthy and the young man who will be bringing the food here each day. The man sitting on the cot closest to Dhakshinamoorthy is Ramesh, who assists in the running of Quality of Life Trust.


They wanted to make sure that I saw the roof. The only thing that keeps water out is a big piece of plastic, and even it leaks. In a few weeks, in June, the monsoon rains start. They badly need a new roof.


We walked inside a saw a few of the old sadhus who now live here.


This man is not able to sit up.


A barrier has been set up here to keep this sadhu from getting out of bed. Besides severe physical problems, I think he also has mental problems that often come with age. Before this hut was built, he just lived on the street (as was the case for most of the sadhus here).


Another sadhu lies in bed. From the emaciated look of his body, regular feedings will help him.


Another sadhu who cannot sit up.


This sadhu sits behind the building. Compared to the others, he is doing pretty well. He is blind, but he can sit up and move around some. He is alert. His arms and legs are very thin, though.


This man stays in the small building back from the road. They struggle to find spaces for everyone who needs it.


Next we went into the government building.


There were another six or eight sadhus here when we visited.


This man is mostly blind.


He just slept. They had brought food here a little earlier this morning, so he is sleeping after eating a good meal.


This old sadhu sits here. He has lost most of his teeth. He seems alert. An old woman sits behind him. I do not know if she is a sister, or what?


Another one lies on the hard floor, without even a mat underneath him. .


This sadhu shows good awareness and response to us. Even with hardships, I feel a presence of peace coming from him.


This younger sadhu made it a point to join this old one, to sit with him and hold his hand while the photo was being taken.


Outside, Dhakshinamoorthy talks with one of the healthy sadhus who stays near here. He has taken it upon himself to try to help these old sadhus, even though he has nothing himself. There is another sadhu who helps, too. He is not here today, because he has taken one of the old sadhus to a nearby hospital for emergency treatments.


Here is the ‘boy’ (young man) who will be bringing the food each day. He is without a mother and a father, and the small amount he is paid for this work makes it possible for him to eat each day.


Across from the sadhus is Arunachala, giving His grace upon all who can open their hearts to Him.


More help is urgently needed, and not just help today, but ongoing long-term support. We have taken on helping these sadhus because there is no one else willing to step in. Help, in the form of donations, is needed.

$200, or Rs 10,000, provides one meal each day for a month for all 20 sadhus. It would be great if we could provide at least two meals each day. There is only money now, even with the emergency donation we received, for one meal each day. Medical care is needed. It is impossible to know what this will entail, but $200, or Rs 10,000 each month, would probably go a long way towards meeting these care costs. A new roof is needed urgently. Probably this would cost $500, or Rs 25,000.

If you are moved by this situation in which these men, who have given everything to God, now find themselves, and can find a way to help, please let me know. Send an email to and I will let you know how you can donate. What is especially needed are one-time funds for the roof, and ongoing donations for the feeding and medical care. This is a way that you can show your love for Arunachala, by supporting these sadhus who live in His hands.